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Cablegate: Port Sudan Union Protest: Harbinger of Election Activism?

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OO RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKH #0072/01 0131237
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O R 131235Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0013
INFO IGAD COLLECTIVE
UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000072

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
NSC FOR MGAVIN, LETIM
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN
ADDIS ABABA ALSO FOR USAU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM ELAB EINT SU
SUBJECT: Port Sudan Union Protest: Harbinger of Election Activism?

REF: A) 09 KHARTOUM 1033

1. (SBU) Summary: 250 members of a politically-influential union
of dockworkers operating in Port Sudan were arrested during a
peaceful demonstration at the offices of Governor (Wali) al-Tahir
Ella on 10 January. Union organizers had previously attempted to
call a general assembly to discuss speculation that the Government
of Sudan (GoS) had entered into negotiations to sell the port to a
multi-national Arab company, but a local government entity that
regulates the activities of trade unions and other Sudanese
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) failed to provide the
necessary permit for the union to assemble. Numerous political
experts are watching trade unions with interest as the elections
approach, with some speculating that, at least in Eastern Sudan,
trade guilds such as the Stevedores' Union could take a leading
role in mobilizing and organizing voters in the April elections.
End Summary.

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Arrest and Release of Demonstrators

-----------------------------------

2. (SBU) On 10 January, a group of 250 dockworkers were arrested
during a peaceful demonstration in front of the offices of Red Sea
State's governor, Wali al-Tahir Ella. According to protest
organizers, the demonstrators were arrested for disturbing the
peace and assembling in public without a permit. Union leaders
have confirmed that the arrestees were treated decently while
detained, and all were released within hours. Sudanese media
outlets have indicated that both the Sudan People's Liberation
Movement (SPLM) and the Communist Party helped to organize the
protest. A leading member of Sudan's Communist Party, Babakir
al-Shafa'e, confirmed the presence of party members at the
incident, but stated that the Communist Party "supported, but did
not engineer" the protest, which he characterized as "apolitical."


----------------------

Assembly Permit Denied

----------------------

3. (SBU) Those arrested were all members of the
opposition-aligned, 2160-member Stevedores' Union in Eastern Sudan,
who had gathered to petition Ella to allow the union to convene its
General Assembly, after the local government had failed to process
the necessary permits to hold the meeting. While all parties agree
that no assembly permit was issueed, it is unclear whether the
fault lies with the local government for failing to process the
necessary paperwork, or whether the Stevedores' Union neglected to
turn in all of the required documents, as National Congress Party
(NCP)-aligned Union leader al-Tahir Adroub has intimated. (Note:
Many have reported that the GoS routinely exploits bureaucratic red
tape as a means of restricting political activity of opposition
groups (reftel). End Note.)

4. (SBU) By all accounts, the Stevedore's Union is a powerful
group with significant financial resources and strong political
ties to opposition parties. According to Union leadership,
members are required to pay annual dues, and contribute a small
amount for each shift worked. These moneys are then pooled by
Union leadership into cooperative investments, with port
infrastructure playing a significant part in the investment
portfolio. Rumors that Port Sudan's facilities had been, or would
soon be, privatized and sold to a multinational Arab corporation
triggered concerns within the Stevedores' Union over the
disposition of its assets, and prompted the demand for a general
assembly to call for a stop to privatization. Protest organizer
Mohammed Oson said that, while the Stevedores' Union had concerns
about the possibility of privatization, the protest that ensued was

KHARTOUM 00000072 002 OF 002


directly related to the interference of a local governmental body,
the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, which refused to issue the
permit allowing the General Assembly to convene.

---------------------

Protests May Continue

---------------------

5. (SBU) The Union maintains that it has the right to assemble to
discuss internal financial matters, and claims that, in denying the
necessary permits, the local government illegally interfered with
this right. Mohammed Oson has announced that the GoS must allow
the General Assembly to convene within the next three days, or face
continued demonstrations.

6. (SBU) Comment: While the dispute between the Stevedores' Union
and the government of Red Sea State is rooted in financial
concerns, the political implications of the protest and arrests
cannot be ignored. The Communist Party has claimed only limited
involvement, but union leaders have nonetheless taken this incident
as an opportunity to direct recriminations at the NCP and the
national government. Numerous political experts are watching trade
unions with interest as the elections approach, with some
speculating that, at least in Eastern Sudan, trade guilds such as
the Stevedores' Union will take a leading role in mobilizing and
organizing voters in the April elections. End Comment.
WHITEHEAD

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